Victoria dominates FFA Cup, with NSW and Queensland trailing PFA study reveals

The FFA Cup has only been going for three years but already it has captured the imagination of the soccer public – nowhere more so than in Victoria.
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Two of the three FFA Cup winners – Melbourne Victory in 2015 and Melbourne City in 2016 – come from the state capital, while two National Premier League Victoria clubs, Hume City and Bentleigh Greens, have made the semi final.

The first winner, Adelaide, came from South . Beaten finalists Perth Glory (2014 and 2015) and Sydney (2016) came from WA and NSW respectively.

Queensland teams have fared poorly, with not even one side from the Sunshine State making it to the last four, something the ACT achieved last year when Canberra Olympic lost to Sydney.

Unlike the other footballing codes in which matches invariably are won by the highest quality team or the one that dominates possession, soccer lends itself to more regular upsets.

It is impossible to imagine a genuine knockout Cup competition in n Rules football or the rugby codes where power, strength and possession invariably determine results. State and second tier teams would have little chance even against the struggling top level teams due to the quality differential in players and the disparity in resources.

But the nature of soccer makes it much more possible for “mismatches” to provide compelling contests.

In soccer tactics can play a much greater role, with teams who can organise themselves defensively able to frustrate better credentialed opponents and sometimes score a goal on the break with what might be their only real attack of the match.

In footy or rugby, if a team has three times the number of inside 50s, entries near the try line or set shots for goal as its opponent, it’s not going to lose.

After three FFA Cup competitions it is possible to mine the data to find evidence of why and how the tournament – outside the obvious romance of a lower team knocking over a so-called superior – is popular, and what trends are emerging in the early years.

The Cup offers teams from all over the country from every tier of football the chance to progress and meet an A-League side in a knockout game.

As such it draws a huge entry. Data from a detailed survey of the FFA Cup collated by the players union, the PFA, shows that in year one of the competition 589 clubs entered, with over half coming from Victoria and NSW.

By the third year (2016) the number had grown by almost 20 per cent, with 700 teams entering from the earliest stages with, once again, the two most populous states providing the greatest number.

As there are only 10 A-League clubs, the vast majority of entrants come from the FFA’s “Member Federations”.

Of those the most successful – if success is measured by performance of second tier sides from the round of 32 onwards, which is when A-League teams come into the draw – is Victoria.

Teams from the NPL Victoria and lower Victorian leagues have played 30 matches at this stage of the competition and won 14, drawing five and losing only 11 for a win percentage of 47 per cent. Not all those games have been against A-League opposition, of course, but Victorian NPL teams Bentleigh Greens (2014) and Hume City (2015) have both progressed to the semi final, while Green Gully and Bentleigh both made the quarter finals in 2016.

Perhaps surprisingly the next best percentage performers have been clubs from the ACT and South , both from a much lower sample of seven matches. Teams from Adelaide and Canberra have won three of those encounters, giving them a 43 per cent success rate.

Teams from NSW have a relatively poor rate in comparison. Clubs affiliated to the Football NSW region won seven out of 26 games from the round of 32 onwards, drawing two and losing 17 for a 27 per cent record. Teams from the Northern NSW area have a much lower success rate than those from Canberra or Adelaide even though they played the same number of matches – seven. Northern NSW teams won only once at this stage of the competition, losing five and drawing once for a 14 per cent strike rate.

Queensland clubs fared reasonably well in broad terms, winning seven out of 20 for a 35 per cent hit rate, but rarely at the latter stages of the tournament, with none having ever made a semi final.

Given the nature of the fixtures – where there are teams of various mixed abilities – the scores in games tend to be bigger than on average.

The PFA data shows that the average FFA Cup goals per game ratio has been around 4.5 per match for the three seasons of the competition, some 50 per cent more than the just under three goals a game averaged in A-League contests in the same period.

The story is much closer, it should be pointed out, from the round of 32 onwards when the A-League sides enter. Games become tighter and more evenly matched, and although the FFA Cup average is above three, the goals per game ratio is much more in line with the A-League.

It would seem counter-intuitive to think that the part timers of the Member Federation clubs would have a better away record than the professionals of the A-League, but that’s how things have emerged from the statistics of the first three years of the competition.

Non A-League teams have, on average, won 48 per cent of their away games compared to the 39.2 score for A-League sides on the road. Competition rules state that when an A-League side is drawn against a Member Federation team it has to play its fixtures at the lower ranked club’s ground.

“Despite lacking the fully professional logistical support of A-League teams, Member Federation clubs travelling interstate in the FFA Cup actually outperform A-League away teams. Perhaps the novelty and camaraderie of travelling away together has elevated the performance of these teams for one-off matches,” the report suggests.

Perhaps not surprisingly the average age of Member Federation club players is much lower – at 24.9 years – than that of A-League teams in Cup matches, where the average is 27.1. NPL teams tend to have younger players hoping to make a breakthrough and find a route into the professional game.

Member Federation clubs are also much likelier to play teenagers in Cup games according to the PFA data: some 13.5 per cent of appearances by players in Member Federation teams were made by teenagers compared to less than 7 per cent by A-League teams in Cup games.

The Allan Border medal: Three-way battle for cricket’s highest individual honour

The battle to be crowned ‘s best cricketer – and potentially highest paid – is expected to be tight at the Allan Border medal count in Sydney on Monday night.
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Skipper Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner and spearhead Mitchell Starc are expected to lead the overall count to claim the Allan Border medal in a year when they have been central to ‘s fortunes.

Smith has enjoyed fruitful Test and short-form campaigns, Warner has gorged on runs in the 50-overs format, while Starc has been particularly potent in the Test arena. The weighted voting system towards Tests – they are given three-times the value of Twenty20 internationals and double one-day internationals – ensures the game’s traditional format remains key to the overall count.

The voting period is from January 8 last year to January 7 this year, and includes the Test series victory in New Zealand, the 3-0 Test series loss in Sri Lanka, the 5-0 one-day series defeat in South Africa and a tumultuous home summer where the team rose from the depths of despair against South Africa to crunching Pakistan.

Smith was the dominant Test batsman, thumping 1162 runs at 68.35, including four centuries. Warner averaged less than 40 with the bat but was brilliant in the 50-overs format, thumping seven centuries at 63.09, and appears certain to be crowned one-day international player of the year. These performances, along with his contributions in the Test arena, may be enough to have him crowned the Border medallist.

Starc was absent from the tour of New Zealand because of injury but was by far his team’s best player in Sri Lanka, claiming 24 wickets at 15.16. He would have a combined 28 wickets in six home Tests, finishing the voting period with 52 wickets at 24.29.

Smith, Warner and Starc are also set to jostle for the honour of being the No.1 ranked player when the national selectors and Cricket do their next round of lucrative contracts. Test matches hold the balance of power in the list, while claiming the Allan Border medal could also be a pivotal factor. Regardless, the three appear certain to occupy the leaderboard and pocket more than $2 million each when the contracts are announced in April.

Pay discussions over a new memorandum of understanding between CA and players which have reopened in recent days could mean CA-ranked players enjoy even greater financial spoils from next year should the governing body get its way. CA wants only the best players to share in the set percentage model – with a major raise – despite players at domestic and international level having enjoyed this system since 1997.

“As a principle for the new MOU, CA believes retainers for international men should increase significantly compared to the retainers that were agreed in the current MOU,” CA’s submission says.

Glenn Maxwell and Shane Watson, the latter by way of his strong form in the T20 World Cup, are expected to poll well for the T20 award.

All-rounder Ellyse Perry has again has been tipped to be named the Belinda Clark player of the year for her efforts in the one-day international and Twenty20 arenas, while Meg Lanning is likely to be crowned best domestic player. The Clark award, named after the former n captain and three-time World Cup winner, has been redesigned into a teardrop-shaped medallion.

“There is a strong tradition of recognising performances in the n team. However, what we were seeking was to create was something distinct and unique that recognised the level of performance that was being obtained,” Clark said.

“Similarly to the Allan Border Medal with its own look and feel, it’s appropriate that this award also has its own identity and we’re really excited with what we’ve come up with.”

Tim Lane: Nick Kyrgios’ failings play under the spotlight

Nick Kyrgios: It’s crucial for him that his tendency to self-destruct be properly addressed. Photo: Darrian TraynorWhen a live interview is likely to be prickly, an interviewer can feel somewhat apprehensive in the lead-up. As last Wednesday night’s match between Nick Kyrgios and Andreas Seppi neared its climax, Channel 7’s hired gun, Jim Courier, could be seen waiting in the shadows. A penny for his thoughts.
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Would it be Seppi, or would it be Kyrgios? I’d wager Courier was putting more thought into how he’d handle the latter possibility. I’d also wager part of him hoped it would be the former. A brief, and very visible, chat about a performance as complex as that of Kyrgios wasn’t going to be easy.

Alone among the TV commentators in frankly addressing what had been happening on the court, Courier is sufficiently thorough that any such interview would cover all the bases.

As it turned out, it was Seppi. Which brings to mind an interesting aspect of the television coverage of well-established, highly professionalised events like major tennis championships. For Kyrgios was the story. Yet there are limits to the control exercised by the rights-holding network.

Which is in contrast to sporting competitions still in the development phase. Later that same evening, during Ten’s coverage of The Big Bash League, Shane Watson admitted he was doing an interview under sufferance, having a few minutes earlier lost his wicket in frustrating circumstances.

Entertainment prevails in the still-developing BBL and the players play the game.

Leading up to Watson’s dismissal, the entertainment mindset was overplayed when the commentators passed statistical information to the Adelaide Strikers’ captain, Brad Hodge, live to air. This related to a particular bowler’s previous success against Watson. Even in Big Bash this was beyond the pale and cricket officialdom has reminded Network Ten of the integrity issues involved.

Such is the BBL’s nature that its organisers must think hard about how the balance between sport and entertainment is struck. The previous night, there had been media criticism of the fact that Brendon McCullum was prevented from playing for the Brisbane Heat against the Melbourne Stars due to suspension. As the Heat’s captain, McCullum had been twice adjudged responsible for overseeing slow over rates.

In the opinion of some, he was too important a drawcard to be sidelined and organisers owed it to the crowd to let him play.

The moral of this story? Even where rules clearly exist, it doesn’t take long for pressure to mount that they be ignored … in the interests of entertainment of course.

Back to Kyrgios, and if he continues on his current path he could become the saddest form of sporting entertainment: the John Daly type. If that sounds over-the- top, consider what will be scrutinised more closely when next he plays, his form or his behaviour? It’s crucial for him that his tendency to self-destruct be properly addressed.

While his performance on Wednesday night was irksome to watch, it’s important to recognise we don’t know the whole Kyrgios story. The morning after the night before, I had a chance encounter with one who does have some insights. He argued strenuously that this isn’t a bad young man, pointing to some excellent qualities. Not least of these was the manner in which he conducts his relationship with his girlfriend: a rare and revealing observation by a worldly, older man of a younger one.

Nevertheless, Kyrgios must take personal responsibility for his serial failings. His refusal to do this probably irritates ns more than anything else.

In the days before the n Open, he did a media conference wearing a T-shirt which declared “F— Donald Trump”. Here was youth expressing itself ’60s-style on a big issue.

But I wonder if Kyrgios has worked through all the things he abhors about Trump, for one of these might be the new American President’s pathological inability to accept criticism. If he gets to this point, Kyrgios might see a similarity between Trump’s response to Meryl Streep and his own to John McEnroe.

Something else Kyrgios might ponder is the observation made long ago of Jimmy Connors, in which a writer imagined the abrasive “Jimbo” as a 50-year-old, “sitting alone in an airport between flights, over a cup of coffee, faced with the shards of his past. He will be a man then and he will wish that as a boy he had done it better.” After Kyrgios’ meltdown in Shanghai last October, Connors tweeted an offer to mentor the n. Now, in Melbourne at his national championship, and before the eyes of the tennis world, Kyrgios has performed in a way that McEnroe has described as giving tennis a black eye.

For this pair of erstwhile enfants terribles to recoil at what they’re seeing is significant. Since their playing days ended, both McEnroe and Connors have written autobiographies acknowledging the behavioural failings of their competitive years. Each would agree that as a boy he could have done it better.

McEnroe and Connors won so often, though, that they got away with a lot. Sports fans are invariably more forgiving of winners.

On Wednesday night, Kyrgios lost and was booed.

Yet to merely say he lost is an over-simplification. For I suspect that as his contest with Seppi neared its conclusion, something within his psyche wouldn’t allow Kyrgios to win. He was like a boy who knew he’d done wrong and that it wouldn’t be right – indeed would be embarrassing – to take the prize.

Thus, among myriad other perverse behaviours, we saw him play one shot so inappropriate to the circumstances as to risk giving the game away. In more ways than one.

It told the crowd he didn’t care whether he won or lost. And it revealed him as a confused young man caught in the spotlight.

Stephen Larkham and ACT Brumbies confident in fight to retain roster of off-contract stars

ACT Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham will juggle pre-season preparations with contract talks, declaring player negotiations won’t be a distraction in his final year as the club’s leader.
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The Brumbies are in a fight to re-sign more than 20 players off-contract players and rich European clubs have circled some of their stars as recruitment targets.

The Brumbies play their first pre-season trial on Saturday night and are just five weeks away from their Super Rugby season-opener against the Canterbury Crusaders.

Larkham is entering his final campaign as Brumbies coach before moving into a full-time Wallabies assistant’s role at the end of the year.

But he will continue to lead contract talks until his successor is appointed, which could be as early as the end of February.

Wallabies outside centre Tevita Kuridrani has been pursued by overseas clubs while Scott Fardy, Sam Carter and Tomas Cubelli are on a list of more than 20 players looking for new deals.

Former ARU chairman Peter McGrath voiced his concerns about the long list of off-contract Brumbies in a blog on the Griffin Legal website last week.

“We’re working with a lot of players at the moment to look at 2018, 2019 and 2020,” Larkham said.

“I don’t think the number of players off contract is relevant. What is relevant is that we’re constantly in negotiations with players, whether it’s during the season, pre-season or post season.

“It’s a never-ending cycle and you’re constantly looking at your squad for down the track. The position we’re in at the moment is no different to any other year.

“It’s not an alarm or anything like that, it’s just genuinely the way negotiations occur.”

New Brumbies chief executive Michael Thomson will begin his tenure on Monday and his first task will be finding Larkham’s replacement.

The Brumbies board has set a target of having the club’s coaching future finalised as early as the end of February with Larkham set to take a full-time Wallabies assistant coach’s role at the end of the year.

Brumbies forward coach Dan McKellar looms as one of the front-runners to fill Larkham’s shoes while it’s understood several overseas-based candidates have also applied for the position.

The Brumbies have been working with several players since the end of last year in the hope they would commit to new deals, despite not knowing who the coach will be.

“Part of my role at the moment is to make sure the long-term future of the Brumbies is successful,” Larkham said.

“I think that there are some obvious choices and then the new coach will also have a say, too. We’ll keep talking to players now and through the season.”

The Brumbies have a handful of key players already locked into new deals from 2018 and beyond, including Scott Sio, Henry Speight, Rory Arnold and Allan Alaalatoa.

Kuridrani has been targeted by some clubs in France but the powerful Fijian has become a mainstay of the Brumbies’ back line in the past five years.

The 25-year-old forced his way back into the Wallabies team at the end of last year and scored tries in four of ‘s five Tests on the spring tour of Europe.

“Tevita has a big decision to make … he usually goes under the radar but he’s the rock in our back line,” Speight said.

“When he’s firing, our back line is firing. He’s the one who puts us over the gain line every time.

“I’m sure he’ll come to the right decision for him and his family at the end of the day, but we’d love to see him hang around and stay.”

SUPER RUGBY PRE-SEASON

January 28: ACT Brumbies v n Barbarians at Viking Park, 5.30pm.

February 4: ACT Brumbies v NSW Waratahs at Mudgee.

February 11-12: Brisbane Global 10s at Suncorp Stadium.

Fisherman dies after being swept off rocks in NSW south coast

Emergency crews were called out to Tathra after a group of fishermen were swept off the rocks. Photo: Jacob McMaster A man has died and four others have been rescued after being swept off rocks while fishing at Tathra on the state’s far south coast on Saturday.
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The group were fishing on a rock platform to the south of Tathra Headland when they were washed off the rocks by a rogue wave shortly before 1pm.

Local police officers, assisted by a Westpac Rescue Helicopter and NSW surf lifesavers, searched the area surrounding the popular fishing spot.

A NSW Surf Lifesaving statement said two of the men who were dragged out to sea by the waves were able to scramble back onto the rocks, with the remaining three pulled out of the water by inflatable rescue boats.

As a result of being immersed in the water, two of these men required CPR.

One of the men responded favourably to the treatment by lifesavers, while the other, believed to be in his 50s, died at the scene.

Conditions at the time of the incident are understood to be “choppy” with strong winds and wave sets of between 2-3 metes reported by local lifesavers.

Neither the deceased man or the other man requiring CPR were wearing a lifejacket at the time they were washed into the water, a NSW Surf Lifesaving statement read.

On Friday, Surf lifesavers and the Bureau of Meteorology warned rock fishers, in particular, to be “aware of deceptive conditions especially when getting onto and off exposed platforms”.

Rock fishing is widely recognised as one of the most dangerous sports in , with an average of eight people losing their lives to the sport every year in NSW alone.

Saturday’s incident adds to the spate of drowning deaths that have plagued the state’s waterways over the summer holiday period. About twenty people have drowned since Christmas in NSW.

Violent swells are expected to lash the NSW coast for the remainder of the weekend.

Declassified documents show CIA’s interest in Chinan communism

The CIA warned that the Chifley government could face “crippled” industries if the Communist Party of intervened. Photo: National Archives of The CIA released about 930,000 documents on Wednesday. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite
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A secret CIA memo warned of the n Communist Party’s ability to “cripple n production” just months before the 1949 coal miner strike.

The American intelligence agency prepared a recently declassified, 10-page dossier on communist influence on n trade unions and the then Labor government in April, 1949.

The report is one of several from the CIA to detail communist activity in from the end of the Second World War through to the 1960s, which were published on the agency’s Freedom of Information Act website this week.

It described the government as slow to counteract the growth of communist power in unions and “notoriously lax regarding security measures” in the past.

One of the report’s observations, that “communist power at present is sufficient to cripple the entire n economy temporarily by stopping transport and coal production”, proved to be prophetic.

Just two months after it was published, 23,000 coal miners went on strike and returned to work only after the government used the military to break the production.

But the report also said there was no evidence the Communist Party had any direct influence on the government, nor was there proof of contact between the n party and the Soviet Union.

“The US Naval Attache in Melbourne has reported that the Labor government is under communist domination, with two cabinet members probable communists and another cabinet member and Speaker of the House,” the report said.

“There are, however, no known Communists in the federal parliament and only one state legislator (Queensland parliament) is a known party member.”

Other declassified documents showed the CIA expected the failed 1951 referendum to ban the Communist Party would be successful, but described the voters as lacking enthusiasm and then opposition leader HV Evatt as “becoming hysterical if not desperate” in attacks on the government.

Another detailed interactions between the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China and their counterparts in and New Zealand.

Little was mentioned of the Chinese agent’s interactions with the n Communist Party, but the document noted the New Zealand Communist Party followed China’s advice to attempt to create a “clandestine party organisation” parallel to the existing one.

But the idea fell apart in New Zealand, and the report said the party’s leader “was apparently criticised for ‘his’ mishandling of the plan” on a return visit to China in 1968.

The documents, part of the 11 million document strong CIA Records Search Tool, were only available to view in person at the National Archives in Maryland until the agency decided to publish the collection online this month.

Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall star attractions at Malcolm Turnbull’s business drinks

Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall leave Kirribilli House as Malcolm Turnbull hosts a reception for big business on Saturday, Photo: Christopher Pearce SBS boss Michael Ebeid arrives at Kirribilli House as Malcolm Turnbull hosts a reception for business leaders. Photo: Christopher Pearce
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While all eyes were on Washington over the weekend as one billionaire officially entered public office, another touched down in to be entertained by our public officers.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, together with his wife, model and thespian Jerry Hall, were the main attraction at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s sundowner soiree at Kirribilli House on Saturday.

As foreshadowed in The n Financial Review, Hall, Murdoch and his son Lachlan were joined by a handful of chairmen and chief executives, including local entrepeneur Gerry Harvey, newlyweds Ryan and Clare Stokes, the Commonwealth Bank’s Catherine Livingstone and SBS boss Michael Ebeid at the Prime Minister’s secondary Sydney residence for a belated Christmas party.

Some of Turnbull’s cabinet stars, such as new Federal Industry minister Arthur Sinodinos, also turned out to help the host pass around the cocktail franks and dish up acceptable small talk.

Despite only making a cameo appearance, the 85-year-old businessman looked spritely, sophisticated and relaxed in a blue lounge suit, while Hall opted for a ruby midi skirt suit with matching handbag. The couple, who married last March, both accessorised their looks with beaming smiles and some Barack and Michelle Obama-inspired PDA.

It is understood Murdoch is in town to check in with his News Corp lieutenants, while back home in the United States his beleaguered Fox News network announced its latest talking head – former Ukip leader and Donald Trump cheerleader Nigel Farage.

The appointment adds weight to the recent New York Magazine report that Murdoch, who also owns Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, The Sun and The Times papers in London, is working hard to establish a relationship with the newly installed President by speaking to Trump three times a week.

While ‘Jupert’ are down under, Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Murdoch was on the ground in Washington enjoying the inauguration celebrations with her close friend, Ivanka Trump.

She accompanied Trump’s daughter to a candlelit pre-inauguration dinner on Thursday before taking a front-row seat at the swearing in ceremony on Friday.   A photo posted by Wendi Murdoch (@wendimurdoch) on Jan 20, 2017 at 4:57am PST

Adam Hyeronimus emulates dad by wining the Carrington Stakes

On a mission: Adam Hyeronimus rides Equador to win theCarrington Stakes. Photo: bradleyphotos苏州夜总会招聘.auWizard of Odds: Live Odds, Form and Alerts for all Racing
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Adam Hyeronimus has wanted to win the Carrington Stakes since he was a kid, and one of his favourite horses, Ecuador, got the job done for him on Saturday.

Like his first-up win in December, Ecuador sat off the speed and sprinted to victory, holding off Shiraz late,  and could be heading for bigger targets.

But this win meant more to Hyeronimus because his father Craig won the Carrington on Young Blood in 1984.

“Dad didn’t win many stakes races and I always knew this was a race he had won,” Hyeronimus said. “That makes a bit more special because it has been a race I have wanted to win all my life.

“I came here on a bit of a mission.”

The Gai Waterhouse-Adrian Bott stable have always held a good opinion of Ecuador,  but as a seven-year-old he might be racing in the best form of his career.

He has been placed at group1 level when runner-up to Winx in the Epsom Handicap a couple of years ago. He chalked up his 10th win and fifth for Hyeronimus, who has built a great association with him.

“He is a horse that really goes well for me and I have had a lot of success on,” Hyeronimus said. “He has really come back in great shape and I would say this is the best he has raced, which you can’t say about many seven-year-olds.

“He is a brilliant miler but at the moment he is loving 1400 metres. He is really sharp.”

Bott was not ruling anything out with Ecuador after the win and Sydney and Melbourne are both in play.

A similar preparation to this could see him run in the Orr Stakes at Caulfield on February 11, the first group1 of the year.

“We might have to up our sights over the autumn now,” Bott said. “Last campaign he had some good form around listed and group 3 races but hopefully this time around with the right placement, we’ll be able to win a nice race with him.”

“He is doing it tough, carrying the weight and running strong through the line. He is a happy horse.”

Meanwhile, apprentice Nick Heywood celebrated his 21st birthday by scoring on Got Unders in a tight finish to the Huawei Handicap.

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Rafael Nadal survives inter-generational war with Alexander Zverev

Rafael Nadal says you can return to the tennis circuit, but you don’t really feel back on it until you begin to string wins together. He should know; he has had to specialise in in coming back.
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Now he has three n Open wins, the beginning of a string, and the latest, a four-hour five-set come-from-behind outlasting of precocious German neophyte Alexander Zverev, was as good as two in one.

When it was done, Nadal said simply: “Everyone knows how good Alexander is. He is the future of our sport, and the present, too, now.” Nadal is the past and the present: this match deserves to be remembered as a famous crossroad.

Nadal says only by stringing together shots and points can you regain the feeling that all is automatic, and that instinct can be trusted, that they will accumulate into winning matches. At first, Zverev seemed intent on denying him this.

In the early going, he beat Nadal variously and almost insouciantly with drop shots, lobs and rasping baseline drives, and  every now than a 210 km/h-plus serve, meanwhile showing a 19-year-old’s eye for line calls. The match fairly rattled along in a most un-Nadal-like way.

None of this would have surprised Nadal. Zverev is 19, and a soaring 198 centimetres, but with co-ordination, qualities that were once thought to be as irreconcilable as Shane Warne’s spin and accuracy. He winds up and delivers like a trebuchet. He is a rare latter-day example of a teenager with game. Pre-match, Nadal paid tribute to him as a future major winner and No. 1. He blazed through the first set.

But there is game, and there is game-day know-how. It doesn’t sound like much difference, and it is not, but it is crucial. Zverev fell back in the court a little, and Nadal was happy to rally him there. Twenty-one shots? Twenty-five? Better. Thirty, the longest? Suits me. That is too simple, of course. In four hours of tennis, the dynamics rarely stay the same. Zverev showed that he could  throttle back, Nadal that he had all the gears, still. Bit by bit, all his lines came back to him.

At times, Zverev’s game still monstered Nadal. Zverev’s best shot, his backhand, fed naturally into Nadal’s, his forehand, but didn’t worry the German. It takes either youthful bravado or supreme ability to spike a weapon by loading it, but that, among much else, is what Zverev did.

But monstering is only one way. Nadal’s is equal and opposite. So the match had its pattern, in three sets, an early break and a long, willing play-out, in one, no break at all, but a rousing tiebreaker instead, won by Zverev. In the fifth, as night fell and tiredness set in, the course changed: a break each way, then the effective denouement. Serving at deuce, Zverev won a 37-shot rally, but it sped the onset of cramps in his calves. Nadal won the next three points. He would not yield the lead this time.

At 19, Zverev might wonder what more he has to do. That is the Nadal effect. In truth, all – all! – he has to do is to continue to develop as he is now. He towers over the court already; the game  will come to heel. For Nadal, this was two progressions in one, victory, and another work-out.

“Today was a big battle,” he said. “I am very happy to get through. I enjoyed very much this battle.” You knew he was earnest.

Elsewhere in Melbourne, Andy Murray might have smiled ruefully. With Novak Djokovic out of the way, for the first time, he has a major championship at his mercy. But look: first Roger Federer on Friday night, now Nadal on the middle Saturday, gathering. Federer is notionally No.17, his lowest standing for more than 15 years. Nadal is No. 9, pretty much his humblest rank for 12 years.

Both rankings are injury-affected, of course. Both are on the comeback trail, but how soon? Tomas Berdych says Federer is so back that he’d rather have been watching him from the stands than playing him on Friday night. Nadal was never the irresistible force, but on Saturday’s showing, he was and might again be the immovable obstacle.

Now Murray might get one in a semi, the other in a final. In the meantime, on Sunday, he has Zverev’s older brother!

‘Misjudgment’ almost proved very costly for rueful Bowman

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Champion jockey Hugh Bowman went within a nose of missing a couple of months – and a ride on Winx in the autumn – as he won on Olympic Academy on Saturday.

Bowman admitted that “he clocked off” in the final couple of strides as Olympic Academy just held a margin over Sabino Speed, and was fined $600 by stewards for failing to ride his mount to the line.

“I don’t have to tell you [you] would have missed the start if not most of the autumn carnival if the result was different,” chief steward Marc Van Gestel told Bowman.

“No one got a bigger shock than me when Peter Wells said to me pulling [up] that he thought he won,” Bowman said.

The champion jockey stated that as Olympic Academy loomed alongside Sabino Speed at the 50m mark, he thought he had a long neck margin as he pleaded guilty to the charge. “It was just a genuine misjudgment,” Bowman said. “I didn’t misjudge the post, I misjudged how far I was in front and thought I had the other horse beaten.

“I clocked off a stride and half before the post, it was just a mistake.”

While Bowman was lucky to keep the race, favourite Liapari continued a bad day for punters as he failed to find a clear run in the straight. Stewards questioned premiership leader Brenton Avdulla about his tactics in the straight.

He had looked to take a run between Sabino Speed and Olympic Academy inside the 200m mark but it shut and the favourite went to the line without being tested in fourth.

“I went for the run and it took him two strides too long to get into it and it shut on him,” Avdulla said. He had earlier ridden a double on Exceeds and Montauk to extend his lead in the premiership.

SUPER STAR BOB SUPER

Matt Dale had to change his pre-race advice to owners of Super Star Bob as the horses headed to the gates for the Highway Handicap at Randwick on Saturday. “I told them coming here I thought we might be a run earlier but after he paraded I told them I think he will be right,” Dale said after Super Star Bob kept his perfect record diving through late to win. “We have always had a big opinion of him but he is still raw and you saw that at the end. He is the sort of horse we can come back here for another Highway race in a couple of weeks before looking at the Canberra Guineas.” Bobby El-Issa found a run to the inside of stablemate Clipper, which hit the lead too early according Dale, but Super Star Bob seemed to corkscrew his body in the closing stages. “He is still a big baby and saw the post and went to baulk at [it] but he had a bit on them,” El-Issa said

VIA NAPOLI CRUISES

Jason Collett knew he had stolen one on his rivals as he scored on Via Napoli. Collett had been secure in the knowledge that he had done no work at the home turn over the Randwick mile and just had to sprint home. “Once she relaxed and travelled I knew I was right,” Collett said. “Gee, we went easy, I couldn’t believe it and I didn’t really move until the turn and she just sprinted home.” The overall time was slow and last 600m was 35.12 seconds, showing how completely Collett had controlled the speed. Via Napoli was never in danger in the straight and scored by one length from Anisha, with Queen Misty third. “She is the sort of mare that once she is happy in a race she is very hard to beat.”

A WIN FOR LACHLAN

There was no Melbourne winner more heartfelt, nor more loudly cheered on Saturday afternoon than the front-running Burning Front when he provided trainer Darren Weir with his third winner of what proved to be a lucrative day at Moonee Valley.

And not just because he was a well-backed $1.60 favourite who never gave his supporters a moment’s worry as he shouldered 60 kilograms to give Brad Rawiller an easy win in the Ranvet Vobis Gold Star race.

No, Burning Front gave teenager Lachlan Lovatt – the son of the gelding’s senior part owner, Justin – every reason to marvel at how good life can feel as he looked down from the committee room where his father and a number of friends were hosting a lunch for him.

The 14-year-old schoolboy has just endured the most harrowing five months of his life in the Royal Children’s Hospital, having undergone chemotherapy and other painful treatment for leukaemia, a condition he was diagnosed with on August 20 last year.

SHINN PICKS UP THIRD SUSPENSION

Blake Shinn clocked up his third careless riding suspension this month when he was banned for six meetings for causing interference to Got the Goss on Roaring To Win in the final race at Randwick on Saturday.

Shinn is riding on a stay of proceeding as he appeals suspensions from Kembla and Warwick Farm on Wednesday. He indicated he would fight Saturday’s suspension, which occurred at 700m when Got The Goss was checked.

Shinn argued that he had pull off on Got The Goss, when a call came from his jockey Matthew Cahill as his mount was also getting pressure from Petrossian on his inside.

With the appeals backing up, if Shinn is unsuccessful in any or all of the appeals it would ruled him out for a significant part of the autumn carnival.

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Chinan Open 2017: No anniversary for Serena Williams, but many happy returns

Long history: Serena Williams plays a forehand on her way to beating Nicole Gibbs. Photo: Scott BarbourIt was – Serena Williams was told during the on-court interview that followed her 63-minute, 6-1, 6-3 defeat of fellow American Nicole Gibbs –  exactly 19 years ago to the day that she played her first match on Rod Laver Arena. Except that, actually, it wasn’t. Ah, details, details.
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The correct answer, in fact, was 19 years and two days, and Williams had rightly remembered that her centre court debut had not come against her sister Venus, as advised, but in the first round of her first-ever grand slam against family foe Irina Spirlea, back in 1998.The 16-year-old Serena won it, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-1, and has pretty much been winning ever since.

Each Williams has contested 17 n Opens; together they have featured in the last 16 of the same slam an extraordinary 35 times, including this one. Venus meets Aussie-slaying German qualifier Mona Barthel on Sunday, while Serena’s 11th quarter-final appearance at Melbourne Park rests with victory on Monday against Czech 16th seed Barbora Strycova.

Happily, the siblings are in separate halves of the draw, unlike that first occasion, when the prodigies met in the second round. The first of the 27 times they have played in official tour-level matches was when 17-year-old Venus won in straight sets. It was, yes, exactly 19 years ago.

“I remember the draw came out, and I had to play her in the second round. I remember, I think, we had a tough first set, and then she really went through in the second. Then she went on, I think, to the quarter-finals. She had a really good tournament that year.

“It was a great time. We really had so much fun playing. It’s really exciting, looking back, and looking at those moments. You don’t really get those moments back, but you can remember them so well. It’s so fun. It was the first of so many.”

Gibbs was a lesser-known, ranked and credentialled opponent than Williams’ first two, Belinda Bencic and Lucie Safarova, but the scoreline was not too dissimilar, and Serena’s satisfaction levels high as the second seed but title favourite edges towards grand slam singles crown No.23.

“I was so pumped up going against my first two opponents, but I think that helped me out today,” Williams said. “[Gibbs] started out really, really well. Started with a lot of energy, and then I felt like at the same time I really needed that.”

For Gibbs, playing her idol brought its own challenges. And rewards. “She was really nice at the net. She said [she’d seen] great improvements since the last time she played me, which is obviously a nice comment from one of my heroes, so definitely taking that to heart and not being too critical of how I played today. Obviously, all credit in the world to her for being the incredible tennis player that she is.

“She makes the court feel very very small. I think that’s the toughest thing about being across the net from her. I think she’s in a league of her own. Especially for me, the Williams sisters are who I grew up watching on TV. I think she turned pro when I was three or something, so I have literally been watching her for the entirety of my tennis life. I think that does play into how you feel on the court. It becomes more than a tennis match.” 

Chinan Open 2017: Why today’s tennis players are fitter, stronger – and older

Elite sport – it’s a young man’s game; you hear it said time and again. And in many sports it is true – but not in tennis.
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As the n Open lurched into life on Monday, there were 128 men and 128 women in the draw, each washed, brushed and ready to play – and of them 64 were aged 30 or older: the men had 46 “mature” players in action and the women had 18. They were no old has-beens either – gone are the days when “mature” was a euphemism for “past it”.

Roger Federer kicked off his campaign against Jurgen Melzer, two men with a combined age of 70 giving the Rod Laver Arena crowd something to cheer. Denis Istomin, 30 years of age and a veteran of 13 years on the tour, upended the mighty Novak Djokovic on Thursday by playing like a free-hitting youngster. As for Venus Williams, she is 36 and has been schlepping around the circuit since the last century and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

These oldies are not just topping up their pension pots; they mean business. Thanks to the wonders of racquet and string technology, modern medical science and increased understanding of nutrition and diet, athletes can prolong their careers. The result is that the sport becomes more physical – these are mature men and women playing at their peak and it is harder for the younger players, those still growing into their bodies, to take them on pound for pound, muscle for muscle. The days of a 17-year-old Boris Becker wannabe bursting onto the grand slam stage are long gone.

“The game today is much harder physically than when I started out,” Melzer said. “There is nobody out there who is not fit and can’t run for X amount of time. Also the court speeds went slower and slower and slower, so it’s just more rallies. There’s no more easy serve-and-volley or anything like that.”

There will always be the occasional genetic eccentricity, the uber-athlete who emerges fully formed into this world but they are rare. Rafael Nadal was one: a teenager in a man’s body who first set up camp at the French Open and allowed no trespassers. But as Lleyton Hewitt said of him a more than a decade ago: “He is carved from a very special wood.”

Sam Smith, the former British No.1 and Channel 7 commentator, has spent her life in tennis but still cannot quite believe how it has changed since she hung up her racquet 17 years ago.

“I just think what we did was prehistoric but then we thought what they did in the ’60s and 5’0s was prehistoric where they didn’t even stretch – they had a cup of tea and off they went. The words ‘core stability’ were never mentioned in those days.

“The big change for me has been the recovery side. I quite often joke in commentary that it would be a hot shower, a bit of a stretch against the wall of the locker room and a banana before I did my press and that would be it.”

Today’s players head for the ice bath, they head for the gym, they warm down and stretch out meticulously and thoroughly. They monitor their intake of food and liquids to the last calorie and millilitre – tennis players these days are a science project from the moment they first pick up a racquet. Everything is geared towards injury prevention and perfect preparation for the next match.

“If you have a good kid at an academy, an eight or nine year old, they will already start the core stability while they are there,” Smith said. “They’re doing Pilates, they’re doing yoga – you start as you mean to go on. I never did any of that! Everything is just a lot more specific and they’re drawing a lot more from other sports. You have to build a body now and that takes a long time.”

Of course, in Smith’s day, the players did not hit the ball as hard as they do now. Modern racquets help players generate more power with more control but these men and women are bigger, fitter and stronger than ever before – when they clump the ball now, it stays clumped.

But the biggest change, in Smith’s eyes, is the money in the game. Now players can afford to travel with a team of experts, each dedicated to a specific area of their employer’s health and wellbeing.

“I don’t think Martina Navratilova had a personal physio with her whereas a lot of the players do now,” she said. Radwanska has, Serena has for a long time – you can do it financially. As good as the WTA physios are, they are there to patch you up and send you out. If you have your own personal physio, they are there to manage that side of it but also they know your body. That is a really big factor.”

Thanks to science, technology and a healthy pay cheque, it seems that today’s players never die, they can just keep returning forever.

Chinan Open 2017: Serena Williams pays tribute to victims of Bourke Street Mall attack

‘It was very shocking’ … Serena Williams has paid tribute to the victims of Friday’s attack in central Melbourne. Photo: Andy BrownbillSerena pays tribute to victims
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Serena Williams has paid tribute to the victims of Friday’s Bourke Street Mall tragedy.

The six-time n Open champion said she was shocked to hear about the deaths of four people on Friday after a speeding car charged through pedestrians in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD.

“It’s very shocking and extremely saddening and disheartening,” Williams said at her post-match press conference.

“[There are] just so many sad things are happening around the world, and even to hit so close to home where I know literally it’s down the street from the tournament, close to where a lot of players are staying.

“You know, it’s just an unfortunate event that you just have to really pray for everyone involved in that sad situation.”

Williams will play Barbora Strycova​ of the Czech Republic in the fourth round after easily beating her fellow countrywoman Nicole Gibbs on Saturday 6-1 6-3.

On Saturday afternoon, players, officials and spectators on Rod Laver Arena observed a minute’s silence for the victims before the match between Rafael Nadal​ and Alexander Zverev.​ You were innocent. You won’t be forgotten. #Melbourne— #AusOpen (@nOpen) January 21, 2017T E N N I S #fed #emiratesA photo posted by L E X I M C N E I L (@leximcneil) on Jan 20, 2017 at 4:33am PSTaLadies who brunch

One of the most photographed events on the schedule is set to be Wednesday’s ladies brunch, which will see key female influencers such as WAG Nadia Bartel and models Brooke Hogan and Stephanie Claire Smith mingle over mimosas before taking in the action on centre court.

Emirates’ Victorian boss, Dean Cleaver, said the brunch was an opportunity for the airline to try new event formats, given the two-week duration of the n Open.

Tennis legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley will be a special guest speaker at the brunch, while Pat Rafter will address a corporate dinner that evening.

Due next week … Nadia Bartel will lead the guest list at the ladies’ brunch. Photo: Getty Images